“It’s like a really short ‘Macbeth,’” announced a cast member as I walked through the door of the Choral Rehearsal Hall to see BareStage’s performance of “Boy Gets Girl.” Another cast member chimed in: “Girl gets stalked by a guy. Stalking ruins her life.” Maybe I totally misinterpreted my sophomore-year English teacher, but I don’t seem to recall that stalking plays any significant part in “Macbeth.”
Though the comparison may be erroneous, “Boy Gets Girl” is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. The play, written by Rebecca Gilman and directed by Nicholas Murphy, centers on Theresa Bedell, an ambitious journalist working for a magazine in New York City. Her experience of having a stalker drags her into a slow descent of paranoia, fear and shame.
“Boy Gets Girl” addresses a lot of serious, real-world issues. The play’s title is pulled from the premise of most modern romantic comedies: Boy sees girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl has a boyfriend who is obviously wrong for her, boy performs some outlandish gesture to convince her that he is worthy of her affection, boy gets girl. It’s a pointed commentary on the media’s messages aimed at young men, instructing them how to interact with the women they find sexually attractive — namely, persevere at all costs, and everything will work out in the end.
Theresa is set up on a blind date with Tony, a friend of a friend. After two entirely lackluster dates, it is clear to both Theresa and the audience that the relationship lacks substance. She’s a journalist; he works with computers. She’s a diehard Yankees fan; he knows nothing about sports. Tony, however, continues to pursue the relationship in spite of Theresa’s unambiguous refusal of his advances.
His efforts become frightening as the intensity of his rage escalates. Though Tony never again physically stands upon the stage after the first quarter of the play, his presence is palpable throughout the performance. Psychotic phone calls clog Theresa’s voicemail. At work, she receives letters that meticulously describe the acts of physical and sexual violence Tony wishes to commit against her. In a particularly disturbing scene, an enraged Tony demands over the phone to know whether Theresa has slept with anyone else. Horrified, she slams the phone into the receiver so hard that she breaks it.
“Boy Gets Girl” at once destigmatizes the experience of having a stalker and deromanticizes the image of infatuation commonly presented by popular media. Marie Morley’s performance of Theresa largely accomplishes this. Morley excellently acts out the terror and paranoia commonly experienced by those who are stalked. Her face clearly expresses anxiety, fear and depression. She presents a carefully organized downward spiral into shame and self-recrimination, making it clear that being stalked is neither interesting nor romantic, but terrifying and perhaps psychosis-inducing.
The supporting characters’ performances are, overall, less stellar than Morley’s. Mike Ghaussy plays a weak and awkward Howard Siegal, Theresa’s editor. Detective Madeline Beck, played by Madeleine Pla, is robotic, though this may have been an intentional affectation in order to make her character — a hardened agent — seem more impersonal.
Out of all the actors playing minor roles, Ben Safvati presents the best performance. He plays a thoughtful Mercer Stevens, the first coworker to take Tony’s fixation seriously. Because Mercer offers the majority of the play’s social commentary on gender roles and the media, the performance, in large part, hinges upon his presentation. Fortunately, Safvati shines, and his calm, rational demeanor is the perfect complement to Morley’s frenzied behavior.
With “Boy Gets Girl,” BareStage offers a sensitive and nuanced depiction of the paralyzing psychological effects of stalking. This nuance, coupled with intelligent social commentary on the media’s interaction with the young-male psyche, leads to an overall excellent show, highlighting the terror inherent in stalking.
“Boy Gets Girl” is playing at the Choral Rehearsal Hall in Cesar Chavez through Nov. 22.